The Final Hours Saturday, Mar 19 2016 

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Students working with David Young, March 2016.

I’m finally taking a breather. Sitting in Community Coffee drinking my third cafe au lait today. I wonder if this has something to do with my trouble sleeping? I am taking a pause before some serious Mardi Gras Indian activity tonight,  as it St. Joseph’s Day; even though the date is more closely tied to the Sicilians, it is the Indians’ prime night for masking. That will be followed by some music and tomorrow, even a larger gathering of Indians. For now, I’ll enjoy the relative quiet of the coffee house.

About an hour and a half ago, I saw the 19 students and five student leaders cram their luggage, sleeping bags, beads, and themselves into four minivans for the 1600 mile trip back to New Hampshire. They’ll be leaving the warm weather of the past week for possible snow in Virginia and back home in New England. Many were wistful about leaving, but you could almost hear the gears switch from beignets to books and homework.

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Work at Flood Street, March 2016.

Thursday was St. Patrick’s Day, but celebration would have to wait; work assignments remained the same. The Zulus got more involved in construction on expanding David Young’s aquaculture system. On Friday, he took them on a tour of his organization’s gardens, orchards and ponds that are scattered throughout the Lower Ninth Ward. The crew working at the lowernine.org house finished much of the shingling of the damaged portion of the roof. Only the weather on Friday kept them from finishing the task. The Baratarians primarily continued prep work over on the home on Flood, but by the end of the week more of them had the opportunity to do some painting. The same held for the crew on Delery Street

Thursday night brought the Downtown St. Patrick’s Day Parade. We gathered at the intersection of Royal and Esplanade to watch this relatively modest, yet spirited parade. Afterwards, most of the students followed the parade into the French Quarter, while most of the leaders stayed in the Marigny. The air was heavy, yet thunder showers failed to chase revelers of fof Bourbon Street. Folks got to bed a bit later than most nights, but then, they had a partial day of work left and it was predominately a wash out.

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Backstreet Cultural Museum, March 2016

As the students crossed the Industrial Canal on Friday afternoon, they left the Lower Ninth, the taco truck, the sandwiches from the Arabi Market, and fine folks at lowernine.org. However, before they kicked around New orleans one last night, I took them to the Backstreet Cultural Museum, a Treme landmark just a couple of blocks from the community center. The museum holds dozens of beautifully crafted Indian suits and second line memorabilia. In addition, our guide had masked as an Indian for several decades and was a wealth of information about both the suits and the tradition.

While many students headed over the the Warehouse District, I met up with former student and leader Theresa Conn and her UNH roommate. We went to Adolfo’s, a highly regarded Creole-Italian restaurant on Frenchmen Street. We began with mussels in a garlic sauce. The entrees were magnificent, literally topped off with the chef’s “ocean sauce,” a peppery creation with a mound of crab meat, plentiful shrimp and crawfish tails.

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Kermit Ruffins, March 2016

After dinner we parted ways and I crossed the street to see trumpet player/vocalist Kermit Ruffins at the Blue Nile.He played a healthy collection of his best-known songs, but as the clock rolled past ten, I knew I had to go back and get some rest. More storms had rolled through so that I had to dodge showers while walking back to the community center.

Because the students had done most of the cleaning of the community center on Friday afternoon, there was little to do Saturday save packing the vans. Everyone went into the Quarter for one final time, mostly to finish shopping for souvenirs and visit the French Market. The Meters got a late start, because as

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The Meters, March 2016

winners of the scavenger hunt, they received a breakfast on me. I picked the Flora Gallery and Coffee Shop on the recommendation of Kyle Murphy. It is a funky place on  the edge of the Bywater at the intersection of Royal and Franklin. The service was a bit slow for a group our size, but I believe the students appreciated both the relaxed time and the resident cats, before getting back in the van for the trip.

I met all four groups back at the community center at noon to see them off. They left on time without a hitch. And now I can begin worrying about their well-being on the return trip. It will be great to see them in class on Thursday, but for the time-being, I’m going to enjoy a couple of days of down time.

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Flora Gallery and Coffee Shop, March 2016.

 

 

 

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Hitting the Ground Running Tuesday, Mar 15 2016 

It has been about a day and a half since we collectively arrived in New Orleans. Is spite of flooding in the south and related thunderstorms, neither Southwest 737s or minivans, ran into weather delays. A burning tractor trailer in East Tennessee led to frustrating delays for of the two groups; however we were all safely in New Orleans by late afternoon on Saturday, March 12th.

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Kyle and Bill, Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade 2016

Two of the groups arrived in time to take part in the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade Uptown. And, as they would find out firsthand over the next 24 hours, in New Orleans participation in parades is strongly encouraged. Whether it catching throws or passionately engaging with marchers for St. Paddy’s or dancing in a second line, you are generally part of the event.

At 5:30 in the afternoon, all four groups converged on the North Rampart Community Center, which is tucked in the the northeast corner of the French Quarter. Director “Coach” Parker welcomed us and provided the students with combination tour, orientation, and history lesson. The class was impressed with the facility; it would take a while for them to realize how good the location is.

In what has become a New Orleans trip, first-night tradition, the students headed over to the Joint, in the Bywater, an excellent barbecue place in a town not famous for its barbecue. With our arrival, the line quickly went out the door onto Mazant Street. It took a while by the end of the line the choice of smoked meats began to dwindle, but everyone was seated, fed, and left quite full, thank you. A few students braved exhaustion and took a brief walk into the Quarter, but most took advantage of hot showers and the potential for a full night’s sleep.

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Jazz Mass at St. Augustine’s, March 2016.

The next morning, most students ventured two blocks into Treme to attend the Jazz mass at St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic. I warned them that it was long, but for me it is a “not-to-be-missed” part of any visit to New Orleans, and I guess it’s hard to hide that level of sentiment. The students immediately felt the community and faith of the congregation of this, the oldest African-American Catholic Church in the nation’s first black neighborhood.

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Students with Mardi Gras Indian, March 2016

It was the perfect start to a day that appeared focused on both Treme and New Orleans parade culture. After mass, the class gathered at Congo Square in Louis Armstrong. This spot was where African slaves were permitted to drum, dance, and sell their wares on Sunday. And in the process, contributed to the preservation of African rhythms that became one of the catalysts for the development of jazz. And while waiting to link up with this Sunday’s second line parade, students were treated to the sights and sounds of Mardi Gras Indians who had marched down from Bayou St. John.

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Second Line, Esplanade Avenue, March 2016.

The Keep ‘N It Real Second Line appeared to be more elusive, or at least, it took longer for it to make its way towards where we were waiting. We ended up walking over to Claiborne and St. Bernard. Students first appeared taken aback by the singing, dancing, twerking, horn playing crowd that enveloped us, but most second lined through the Seventh Ward and Treme, and a few followed it all the way back to Bayou St. John. It was a big hit.

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Li’l Dizzy’s, March 2016

Appropriately, we reconnected at Li’l Dizzy’s, an Afro-Creole restaurant on the edge of Treme. Once again, we were treated to the best gumbo in the City, along with fried chicken, greens, macaroni and cheese, and bread pudding, all washed down with brewed ice tea. We tried valiantly, but the buffet won in the end. Some went back to the Center to rest after a full day of activities, while others followed the siren’s song of the French Quarter.

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Harry “Swamp Thing” Cook, Hot 8 Brass Band, March 2016.

At 10pm, we met up at the Howlin’ Wolf in the warehouse district for a performance by the Hot 8 Brass Band. Most had stereotyped images of brass band music, likely picturing a cross between marching band and traditional jazz. They were totally unprepared  for what hit them. In the end, most was stay through both sets to funked up music in a packed, brick room. For them a day of music, dancing, and traditional Creole cooking, would come to an exhausted, yet satisfying end. A day in which entertainment tested endurance and highlighted new and unexpected experiences.

And then there would be work.

The Night Before Friday, Mar 11 2016 

Flying out in a few hours. Trying to remember the feeling ten years ago when I was flying down to volunteer months after Katrina. I was a 50 year-old, father of three, and I was terrified. Travelling alone. The prospect of working with people I had never met. And then, of course, what would I find in the ruins of a great American city?

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Gutting houses, home in Chalmette, LA, March 2006.

Long story short: I survived, even after being robbed as I slept in my hotel room. I hated parts of it, but the experience changed my life. A year later, I made the trip better by adding a healthy portion of UNH students, five of whom were from my initial New Orleans class. And I had the time of my life living through through their eyes and reactions to the experience. An ice storm in Boston cancelled my flight home and I had to stay over the weekend. As a result, I got to experience my first Mardi Gras Indian parade. I got home two days late, after three flights that began before daybreak in Jackson, Mississippi. I  ended up missing a Monday night class for a course I was teaching for the University of Rhode Island library school and I was worn to a nub. As we exited the turnpike to head to our home, my wife, sensing my exhaustion said: “Well, you don’t have to go back next year.” My silence said otherwise. And she knew it.

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Super Sunday, Uptown Mardi Gras Indian Parade, March 2007.

Somehow, I’ve spent one sixth of my life doing this thing year in and year out, and it hasn’t grown old. Ten years and some 250 students later, it remains just as fresh, just an exciting, and just as exhausting as it ever was. My wife, and my now adult children, and my friends have grown accustomed to it. It is a part of me and happily, they like me enough to put up with it and my conversations that begin with, “Well, it’s just like this or that in New Orleans…”

The students in this, the tenth New Orleans course are in the mid-Atlantic, passing through Pennsylvania en route to a sliver of Maryland and West Virginia, respectively. The day began with worried calls from parents, rightly concerned by reports of flooding in Louisiana. I too, have been worried, monitoring conditions continuously, calling friends in New Orleans, and was able to report that while New Orleans was soggy, things there were OK. And after hours of studying weather.com the 1579 mile route between Durham, NH and North Rampart Street appears strangely free from rain.

So, I go to bed. 3:45am will come soon enough. As always, I am worried for their safety, but confident that I will see them, perhaps wet and bedraggled, tomorrow afternoon, along the parade route of the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade. If not there, we’ll reconnoitre at the community center that we will call home for the next week. And then we’ll embark on another one of those weeks in New Orleans, that messed up, enigmatic, magical place, that year after year manufactures experiences that none of us will ever forget.

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Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade (in the rain), March 2009.

Spring Break 2016 Tuesday, Mar 8 2016 

In a few days we will be heading to New Orleans to volunteer with lowernine.org during spring break. And I don’t underestimate the sacrifice that you are making when compared with what some of your fellow Wildcats will be doing at the same time. The work itself will be memorable. You will be tested. You will learn new things. You might for an instant wonder why you are there. But I can guarantee that you will come away with an appreciation of a great city, the challenges that it faces and, more than anything, a love for the people who live there.

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Orientation with Laura Paul, lowernine.org, Lower Ninth, March 2013.

In addition, your leaders and I are planning activities to fill the time when you are not working. And we think you’ll like the results of our brainstorming. Here are some examples of what is store for you, that is, after that 1600 mile drive from New Hampshire:

Saturday, March 12th – arrive in NOLA early afternoon; go directly to Irish Channel St. Patrick Parade; check in @ Community Center afterwards; dinner with your group;

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Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade, March 2013.

 Sunday, March 13th – Jazz mass @ St. Augustine’s, 10-11:30am (optional); Keep ‘N  It Real Second Line (schedule TBA); dinner at Lil’ Dizzy’s, 5:30pm; Hot 8 Brass Band@ Howlin Wolf, 10pm (entrance covered);

Monday, March 14th – Arrive @ lowenine.org, 8am; lunch on the Mississippi River levee in Holy Cross; French Quarter Scavenger Hunt, 8-10pm;

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French Quarter Scavenger Hunt (finale), March 2013.

Tuesday, March 15th – Visit to Chalmette Battlefield @ lunch, weather permitting; and visit to Bayou Sauvage, after work:

Wednesday, March 16th – House of Dance and Feathers, lunch or after work; cookout at Laura Paul’s house, 6pm;

Thursday, March 17th – Downtown St. Patrick’s Parade, Royal Street, starts at 6pm; Rock and Bowl, Zydeco Night, 9 pm (entrance covered);

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Glen David Andrews with UNH students at the Rock and Bowl, 2008

Friday, March 18th – Backstreet Cultural Museum, after work (entrance covered) and St.Charles Streetcar to Carrollton and dinner at the Camellia Grill;

Saturday, March 19th – Cleanup at the Community Center; Bill’s breakfast with scavenger hunt winners (my choice); Saturday morning in the French Quarter in its glory; Congo Square Rhythms Festival, Armstrong Park, 11am (free).

Sniff, sniff. Head back to New Hampshire.

 

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    Members of the 2015 New Orleans class with Errol and Esther Joseph, March 2015.

The New Orleans Class: Take Nine Monday, Jan 19 2015 

Chalmette National Battlefield, Chalmette, LA.

Chalmette National Battlefield, Chalmette, LA.

In March 2006, months after Hurricane Katrina, I went to New Orleans to volunteer for the first time. We were gutting houses, which was grueling and nasty work. After racing to the showers and the service laundry at the volunteer camp, we had some precious downtime before dinner. More often than not, I’d wander over to the Chalmette Battlefield, site of the Battle of New Orleans, and the adjacent Chalmette National Battlefield. There, on a decrepit bench under the live oaks, I’d read or muse in the company of the dead African-American soldiers from the Civil War dead, buried in the cemetery behind me. There, surrounded by so many stories, is where the idea for the New Orleans course first emerged.

When I got back to New Hampshire, I started reading everything I could find on New Orleans while piecing together a proposal for a first year seminar on the City. It was approved and in January 2007 I began teaching the New Orleans class for the first time. I had a full class of 25 and I proceeded to inflict my newfound knowledge on them with text-heavy PowerPoint slides. I tried to communicate all that knew and they tried their best to sort through it all. It was a learning process for all.

I returned to New Orleans that year and seven members of the class went to the Gulf Coast with UNH-Alternative Break Challenge, for which I had arranged volunteers slots with Habitat for Humanity, UNH Intervarsity, or on their own. We had a blast taking in the sights and sounds of New Orleans while working in and around Musicians’ Village in the Upper Ninth Ward. As I watched my students on the trip, I realized that they were able to link the classroom with experience, and in the process, their learning was much different than for those students who remained behind. When the Honors Program approached me to teach it as an honors course in 2008, I asked if I could require all of the students to go on the service learning trip. They* said “yes” and you can guess the rest of the story.

St. Patrick's Day Parade on Frenchmen Street, March 2009.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Frenchmen Street, March 2009.

So here we are, the day before the beginning of the ninth installment of the New Orleans class. Katrina has become more distant, the PowerPoint slides have grown lighter, and the service learning trip still has the power to be a life altering experience. Along the way, while centered around New Orleans, we’ve experienced the Crescent City, the West Bank, St. Bernard Parish, St. Tammany Parish, and Waveland, Mississippi. 200 students and student trip leaders, almost all former students in the class, have danced in second lines, listened to everything from traditional jazz to zydeco to sissy bounce, walked with Mardi Gras Indians, finagled “throws” in numerous parades (no flesh has exposed in the process, but there was some smooching with old Irish and Italian guys), and consumed hundreds of po boys.

And in less than two months, we’re going to do it all over again. For the second year, we’ll be staying at Camp Hope in Arabi, Louisiana. And for the third time, we’ll be working with the wonderful folks at lowernine.org in the Lower Ninth Ward. We’ll experience the Downtown St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Mardi Gras Indians on St. Joseph’s Night, some Afro-Creole cooking, alumnus Kyle Murphy’s French Quarter Scavenger Hunt and, weather permitting, the massing of the Mardi Gras Indian gangs on “Super Sunday.” And more importantly, we’ll work on homes in the still distressed Lower Ninth Ward and, in the process, meet some of the nicest and most open people in the world. In other words, the class will come alive. Within days of taking their mid-term exam, students will have hands-on experience with what they have learned.

New Orleans class, Camp Hope, Arabi, LA, March 2014.

New Orleans class, Camp Hope, Arabi, LA, March 2014.

And I can’t wait.

*The “they” was really Professor Lisa MacFarlane, then Head of the Honors Program, now Vice President for Academic Affairs/Provost at UNH. I am forever indebted to her trust, foresight, and ability to say “yes” so quickly. The result has been a singular and sometimes life-changing course at UNH. It never gets old for me and, I hope, the same goes for the students.

The St. Joseph’s-St. Patrick’s Day Mash Up Tuesday, Mar 19 2013 

Camellia Grill, March 2013

Camellia Grill, March 2013

I hope my students had a chance to witness part of the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade before they left on Saturday. It’s not important, or meaningful, or culturally significant, but it is New Orleans at its goofy, frivolous best. It is a good example of the ingrained parade culture; it is imprinted on these peoples’ DNA. But then, they had a 1600 mile trip ahead of them. I only had to brave breakfast.

I picked up Kyle and his roommates and we headed down Carrollton to the Magnolia Grill, a hoary institution that has been serving breakfast and sandwiches since patrons wore bobby socks. And from the feel of the place it wouldn’t seem out of place today. Being Saturday morning, there was a wait, but it was a beautiful sunny morning. It had been nearly twenty years since I have graced their marble counters, but my memory reminded me that it

Chef’s Omelet, Magnolia Grill, March 2013.

was worth the wait. It is seldom that you the chance to order eggs, sausage, toast and grits and feel virtuous, but when you are sharing breakfast with three 20-somethings, it makes it easy. I can’t truly describe what a chef’s omelet is; a picture does the job far better than I. And besides the Clover Grill, few places in New Orleans can serve a meal complete with entertainment.

We waddled out, picked up some liquid refreshments, and met up with some other City Year volunteers along Louisiana Avenue. Crowds were already lining the street, but we were able to snag some prime viewing spots in front of a police barricade on Prytania. We had to move for a couple of ambulances and an emergency oyster delivery, but we had prime spots from which to snag beads, cabbage and other assorted produce. Moon Pies, Ramen Noodles, drink koozies, and just about anything else drunks could throw from two story tall trailers. When it was over, we parted ways and I headed down to the Marigny for a couple of restful nights in a hotel in the Marigny.

Irish Channel St. Patrick's Parade, March 2013.

Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade, March 2013.

New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling, March 2013.

New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling, March 2013.

After a short rest, I met up with another former student at the Spotted Cat. We walked and talked and caught up some more before settling in for some dinner, with traditional jazz at the foot of Frenchmen Street, right near the spot where a Spanish governor had five recalcitrant Frenchmen summarily executed; hence the name.

We finished dinner and Kendra offered that she was going to attend the finals of the New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling league with her roommates. I mean, who, on the heels of seeing a guy fondling a snake in a bar, could pass on that experience  so I accepted the challenge. She explained that it was largely good-natured spectacle staged to raise money for women’s charities. So we headed over to One Eyed Jacks in the Quarter.

It was almost too weird to describe. A cross between professional wrestling and “Ru Paul’s Drag Race.” Muscle bound women, with great monikers, surrounded by themed entourages. My favorite bartender from Kajun’s backed up the eventual winner, “Seyonce” who bested “Mary Magdalene.” Seriously. After surviving that, I retreated to the quiet courtyard of my small hotel. Yes, there is such a thing as having too much fun.

Jazz Mass at St. Augustine's, March 2013

Jazz Mass at St. Augustine’s, March 2013

For some cleansing on Sunday morning I attended the jazz mass at nearby St. Augustine’s, probably my favorite thing to do in New Orleans. As usual, the singing of the “Our Father,” brought tears to my eyes and the sign of peace went on for ten minutes of more. Then Kendra and I headed uptown for Super Sunday gathering of the Mardi Gras Indians, which customarily takes place on the Sunday closest to St. Joseph’s Day (March 19th), which is a major holiday for the New Orleans Italian population. No one is quite sure why the African-American Indians chose to piggy-back on this largely Sicilian holiday, but it makes for a wonderful cultural mash up.

This was my fifth Super Sunday and the biggest I have witnessed by far. Of course, I remember my first in 2007, only a year and a half removed from Katrina, the resilience and new energy that it represents is, I believe, a very positive sign for both the City and

Super Sunday, March 2013.

Super Sunday, March 2013.

its cultural foundations. We walked the entire route through some of New Orleans’ most challenged neighborhoods. The sights and sounds and smell of street vendors’ wares were indescribable. We had sausage sandwiches before the parade started and ended the parade with a couple of pounds of boiled crawfish. We stayed an additional hour. Indian gangs continued to return to the park where they performed once more before taking off feathered and beaded costumes that can weigh more than a hundred pounds. And while our fatigue could not match that of the Indians, the sun and activity had taken their toll. We parted ways and I headed back to my hotel and ate carry out for dinner.

St. Patrick's in the Marigny, March 2013.

St. Patrick’s in the Marigny, March 2013.

I swore I would ignore the Downtown St. Patrick’s Parade, but tired or not, I walked the few blocks to Royal Street and watched as the much-smaller parade wound through the Bywater and Marigny. it was fun to watch with the crowds from the neighborhoods. And while far from sedate, it carried with a local charm. But afterwards, with the sun setting, I finally took refuge in my small hotel courtyard.

It had been a busy, sometimes frenetic, but thoroughly rewarding multicultural weekend.

Downtown St. Patrick’s Parade, March 17, 2009 Wednesday, Feb 27 2013 

UNH students at the Downtown St. Patrick's Day Parade on Frenchmen Street, March 2009.

UNH students at the Downtown St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Frenchmen Street, March 2009.

Everybody Loves a Parade Wednesday, Feb 20 2013 

To my current students (and others):

My dream is to create a January Term course on New Orleans street culture; the second lines, jazz funerals, Mardi Gras Indians, and participatory parades. But until then, I just get to enjoy the opportunities that present themselves during our spring break trip. And just to lay it out for you, here are the spectacles that await us.

Italian American Marching Club St. Joseph's Parade, March 2007.

Italian American Marching Club St. Joseph’s Parade, March 2007.

On the day we arrive in New Orleans, the French Quarter play host to the Italian American Marching Club’s St. Joseph Parade. The grand marshal of the parade is composer and actor Frank Stallone, Jr. (Sylvester Stallone’s younger brother). There will be plenty of opportunities for beads and kisses from old (Italian) guys.

Keep'n It Real Second Line, March 2012.

Keep’n It Real Second Line, March 2012.

The following day we can head up to Bayou St. John for the Keep’n It Real Social Aid  and Pleasure Club Second Line. The brass band has not been announced yet, but it will be worth following for a few blocks. For lunch, you’ll have your choice of po’ boys from the Parkway Bakery or grilled sausage or pork chop sandwiches along the parade route. Tough choice.

It’s rather quiet during the week, but on Friday evening we can watch the drunken block party that is the Jim Monaghan’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It begins and ends at Molly’s at the Market bar on Decatur St. I’ve witnessed it a number of times and I question whether it ever really leaves the bar, but I can’t be sure. The published parade route suggests otherwise, but I am not convinced.

Irish Elvis, Irish Channel St. Patrick's Parade, March 2008.

Irish Elvis, Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade, March 2008.

Before you all leave, I’d suggest hitting the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It’s the one I enjoy the most. It seems to have the most history. It takes place under a canopy of oaks along St. Charles Avenue. And it will give you a great send-off for the long trip home. And you’ll leave with plenty of green beads and more kisses from old (Irish) guys.

And if tradition (and the weather) holds, the day after you leave will be the Mardi Gras Indians’ “Super Sunday.” it is a shame you will miss it, but I promise to take plenty of pictures.

Saint Patrick’s Day in New Orleans Sunday, Mar 18 2012 

Crawfish for our last dinner in Slidell, March 2012

A constant of our spring breaks has been St. Patrick’s Day, which runs neck and neck with St. Joseph’s Day in New Orleans among the pantheon of “holy” days to rank behind Mardi Gras. It or some events related to it are always present. This year students traveled to Metairie for their big parade last Sunday. And a few of those in the City witnessed the Molly’s in the Market parade on Decatur, which is basically a moving block party. They enjoyed their last night in the Quarter, regardless, although the new 21+ regulations are making it harder for young people to go into clubs to listen to music. If they keep this up, it will be to the detriment of the music and its following and not to the sustenance of decency and decorum.

Courtyard concert, Historic New Orleans Collection, Royal Street, March 2012

I caught part of the Molly’s parade, but also had the chance to see Dr. Michael White and his quartet performing at eh Historic New Orleans Collection on Royal Street. The beautiful courtyard of this old mansion was filled with members and music lovers alike, and they did not disappoint. And the sound of tunes like “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” with Gregg Stafford’s vocals reverberating off of the masonry walls, was fabulous.

Students learning about Mardi Gras Indian culture at the Backstreet Cultural Museum, March 2012

The late night in the City made for a slow departure from the Peace Mission Center this morning. And to some extent, I think it was a rebellion against leaving New Orleans more than chronic sleepiness. Bags seemed to roll slower. Packing decisions took longer. I found it easier to leave the process entirely and make my way into the City for our meeting at the Backstreet Cultural Museum in Treme, the source for the best information on Mardi Gras Indian and Second Line culture in New Orleans. Happily, all three groups fought through the New Orleans departure blues to hear museum founder Sylvester Francis

Sylvester Francis explaining the Second Line tradition, March 2012

expound on this unique culture. The Mardi Gras Indian costumes amazed and hopefully most came away with greater understanding of these New Orleans cultural artifacts.

Sadly, I had to part with students at 10 a.m. Most of them were heading across Rampart Street into the Quarter for what I feel is the finest New Orleans experience — the French Quarter on a weekend morning. There they would find a humming French Market, street performers, and New Orleans’ signature food fare; such will hopefully lessen the sting of a long journeyhome back to the second half of the semester.

Willie Mae's Scotch House, Treme, March 2012

I left the museum to head out to the airport to pick up my wife. And as frequently as I go to New Orleans, it was the first time we have been together in the City since 1993>And we had quite the New Orleans experience: fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House in Treme; part of the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade; dinner with a smartass waitress; the Downtown St. Patrick’s Parade; music on Frenchmen; watching 100 year-old Lionel Ferbos perform with his band at the Palm Court; and walking through the Quarter on a warm Saturday night that happens to be March 17th. It makes me tired (and smile) just to think of it.

St. Patrick's Day, Jackson and St. Charles, March 2012

I am heading offline tomorrow and will not be adding to my blog for a week or more. I’m sure I’ll Have plenty of observations, commentary, and pictures when I get back and the events of the past week have sufficiently sunk in. At that time, I will also begin a new thread in which I invite students to contribute blog entries related to New Orleans, the trip, and to the class. So, stay tuned, there is good stuff yet to come.

Things to Do in New Orleans — Part 1 Thursday, Mar 1 2012 

We’re about a week away from heading down to New Orleans. In addition to working with Habitat for Humanity in St. Tammany Parish, we will be experiencing the history and culture of New Orleans. And in looking ahead, we will have plenty of opportunities to do just that.

Lower Ninth Ward, March 2010

You’ll be arriving in Slidell next Saturday. If you arrive early enough, we can go into the City. If it a little later, there is a fire pit where we are staying. We can can hang out. Rest after 30 hours on the road. And be well prepared for an action packed Sunday.

On Sunday morning we will head down to the Lower Ninth Ward, ground zero for flooding from the levee failures after Hurricane Katrina. We’ll head to the intersection of Tennessee and Galvez, once the center of a vibrant and close-knit community.  Much of it was washed away in August 2005 and of the all the neighborhoods hit by Katrina, it has been the slowest to be rebuilt.  Many of the houses near the levee are the product of Brad Pitt’s Make it Right initiative. The houses are innovative and sustainable. And other charities have built houses in the Lower Ninth.  Development has been slow, but it is being recognized as a model of sustainability.

Kendra and Ronald Lewis, House of Dance and Feathers, June 2011

After that, we’ll head over to 1217 Tupelo Street, also in the Lower Ninth. There we will visit one of the most personal museum collections anywhere. We are going to visit Ronald Lewis’ home grown museum, the House of Dance and Feathers. Long before Katrina, Lewis, who spent years repairing street car tracks, began collecting Mardi Gras Indian and Second Line memorabilia from the Lower Ninth of his birth. Remarkably, much of his collection survived the flood. And since, he has built a place for people to come and appreciate his handiwork and the work of others.

Afterwards, I’ll turn you loose. I suspect most of you will head over to Metairie for the St. Patrick’s Parade. There you find beads and catch cabbages. As fun as that sounds, I’ll likely be off chasing a Second Line parade (I plan to catch the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade on March 17th). In the evening, we’ll meet with our friends from UNH Intervarsity for a concert  by New Orleans born singer, song writer, guitarist Paul Sanchez. I saw him for a brief set with John Boutte several years back, so I’m looking forward to hearing him again.

St. Patrick's Day Parade, March 2010

Uncharacteristically,  we have Monday off, so we will make full use of it. I’d like to hit the City early so we can visit some of the cemeteries. Afterwards, I’ll leave it up to groups. Whether you want to kick around the French Quarter, take the ferry to Algiers, or ride the streetcar uptown — it’s up to you. All I know, we have to back out in Slidell by 1:30pm for a swamp tour on the Pearl River watershed.  Hopefully, it will be warm and sunny so that we get bored seeing alligators and other reptiles.

Afterwards, I suspect we’ll head back to the Peace Mission Center, have dinner, gather around a fire, and call it a day. Stay tuned for Part 2. I’m still looking at what music is playing week after next.

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